For years I struggled to have a consistent time with God each day. My strong protestant roots convinced me of the need to spend time each day in prayer and Scripture reading. The problem was that the harder I tried, the more I failed, and each failure brought a fresh round of guilt.
I really did try. I would get things going for a few weeks, and then my workload would increase or something would happen that would throw me. For most of that time I was ministering in churches as either a youth pastor, and even struggled through the first several years of pastoral ministry. I desperately wanted to be consistent, but could not seem to make my self.
The guilt was overwhelming. I had this running battle with myself: "You are a minister! Of all people you should be doing this. How can you tell people that they ought to be doing this when you can't even do it?" Each failure brought on more guilt and hopelessness. I knew, at least cognitively, that I should be doing this because I wanted to and not because I felt I had to.
Several things converged to help me conquer my problem:
1. I realized it truly was a Grace thing. I didn't have to do this stuff. I was in a relationship, and God loved me. The more I realize He loved me, the more I wanted to spend the time.
2. I matured. Let's face it, somethings just take time. We become different people as we grow older and mature. Something just take time, and are left behind with age.
3. I rejected Protestant-only spiritual formation. I discovered Renovare and Richard Foster. I learned that there is more to spiritual growth than simply reading the Bible and praying (though those are key components). I discovered the ancient spiritual disciplines. I read books like Celebration of Discipline and The Seven Storey Mountain. These books told me what the spiritual disciplines were, how to practice them, and painted a picture of someone whose life was absorbed with being in God's presence.
I wanted that! And as soon as I wanted it, I was able to pursue it.
The Protestant Church threw the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes, when it rejected Catholicism. We lost the rich spiritual heritage and spiritual practices that made ordinary men and women into saints. They weren't perfect, but they were surrendered to God and sought to be in his presence. We need to practice things like fasting, simplicity, silence and solitude, retreat, and the various other historical/classical spiritual disciplines.
4. I created a plan. I started with just a few simple goals. I would fast one day per week, I would read the Bible and pray for 1/2 hour each morning, I would attend church, and I would journal. A short while later I added the devotional reading of spiritual classics. These simple goals gave me something to shoot for, and gave me a challenge to meet. Many would call this a Rule of Life, and is in the same vein as St. Benedict's Rule. (Here is a simple tool to help you.)
5. I set a regular time and place. It is amazing how your body will get used to doing a certain task when it placed in the same spot at the same time every day. I made myself get up and sit in my home office. I created a routine. I got up, started the coffee, raced to the restroom (running water and all), poured my cup of coffee, and went up stairs to my chair. Same routine...not to become boring, but to create consistency. Our bodies and minds like consistency. (I think this is a secret for those with ADD...consistency and grace to allow yourself to do more than just one thing.) I found that as I kept my regular time and place, I was then able to have times with God in other times and places. Before, I found it difficult to concentrate when I went to the woods or wherever. Having a consistent place and time made the "special" times doable.
The one thing to remember is that it is okay to start over when you fail. Just like every year has a January 1, so every week has a Monday, and every day begins again. We always have a chance to start over. We just need to be able to forgive ourselves, get over the guilt, and start again. I am still not perfect. I miss days each week. I just know that I can pick it up again.
What has helped you become more consistent? What spiritual practices have helped you?